My name is Crystal, I’m 34, I live in Villanueva, New Mexico.
I’m still getting a feel for it since I’m pretty new here. I would say overall, there’s lots of Latino families that have been here for many generations. It’s very Catholic. Definitely mucholder, age wise. I’m used to living places where there’s just more of a range, especially with younger people. And I would say there are a lot of folks that are retired, or, that age group. Alot of young people leave and go to town to work, or go to school. It’s definitely very working class. A lot of people have done, agricultural work, or that kind of thing in their families as one way of making money. But I think a lot of that’s been lost, too, so there’s a resurgence of families or people moving here from other places that want to reinvigorate that field. There’s actually a big spiritual community in Ribera and that’s how some of the people I know originally got connected down here. It’s a place where people practice indigenous ceremonies, so, that’s its own little subculture within the area. There’s lots of Junipers, there’s quite a bit of water with the Pecos River running right through the valley here, and the rock changes from this sort of sandy color to really bright reddish sandstone. And it gets really green. I think a lot greener than I would’ve thought the desert could be, especially in the spring.
I identify as queer. And—gender-wise, more recently, kind of gender queer, but…I feel like that’s more of a behavior for me, more like how I present and less about, “I’m gender queer.” I was born in Corvallis, Oregon, and raised in Albany, which is 10 minutes away. I was mostly raised by my mom, but my parents lived in the same town. I have two younger brothers and come from a family of mill workers. Oregon’s very industrial in that sense because of the lumber industry. My dad works at a paper mill and he’s been there for almost 30 years. Both of my grandfathers retired from mills. My uncle works at a paper mill. I definitely came from a blue collar, working class background. My mom was single, for a lot of the time when she was raising me and my brother. We struggled a lot. I grew up mixed class.. that’s how I think about it now. Even though my dad’s job was blue collar, he had benefits, so I’ve always had health insurance. He was able to provide the basic needs when we were growing up. Whereas my mom just really struggled—and still struggles with poverty, pretty intense, chronic poverty. I was the first one to go to college in my family, the first one to get a degree and then followed by my brother who did that shortly after.
Rachel: So what was it like growing up in that town? Did it feel like growing up in a small town?
C: Yeah, it definitely felt like everyone knows everyone. There were two high schools, one of them was mostly the kids of doctors and professionals in town, and I went to the other school that was a little rougher, and the education was pretty poor. I would say the town itself was pretty depressed. There’s a lot of addiction, a lot of alcoholism, a lot of domestic violence. There’s also a lot of beauty surrounding it, but the town itself can feel pretty hopeless. So, a lot of us just drank a lot in high school. People drink a lot, and some people get into drugs early because there’s not a lot to do. There’s not good jobs, or good reasons to stay in town. A lot of people I went to school with went to the military, or worked at restaurants and whatnot. A handful of us went to college, or moved.
R: So when did you first know you were a queer?
C: I was about 19, it was after I went to college. I came out to my parents shortly after that, probably within a year of coming out to myself and coming out to some of my friends. I think it was hard in the ways that it’s hard for most people. There’s no one in my family that I know is queer, or anyone that’s out. One of my best friends had a gay male couple as her neighbors, they were best friends with her mom. They used to give us alcohol (laughs) and we used to hang out with them. But they were, the gay people that I knew in town and I didn’t identify with them at all. I didn’t have any context for that possibility (of being gay) for me or someone that I could relate to until college. And then I started playing Ultimate Frisbee and there were quite a few queer ladies on the team, or gender non-conforming, straight women and things like not shaving your legs. I was sort of like, “Whaat? This is weird!” (Laughs). I had a lot of stereotypes about gender.
When I came out, my family, my parents, they, for the most part, have been really supportive along the way. It was harder with some members of my family. I was partnered with someone for 6 years. I would bring her home for the holidays and everyone but my grandparents knew we were together. When we broke up, there was no acknowledgment, I was basically going through a divorce and, this person wasn’t around anymore and no one talked about it. So that felt hard.
R: So do you think that growing up in the town you did – doesn’t sound like it was a small town, but it wasn’t a city really, either, right? Do you think it made it harder to come out than it would’ve lived in like, Eugene or Portland?
C: Yeah, I think so. In the town I was in, people weren’t really exposed to different ways of being, different ways of living, or different identities. There’s a general ignorance about different types of communities and that kind of thing. That felt hard.
R: Ok, So now is when I’m gonna go off of my question list (laughter). So, um…I don’t know, do you want to talk about…so we’re at college, but do you wanna talk about like the process that then led you to here?
C: (Laughter) I moved from Oregon to Denver and was there 10 years. About 5-7 years ago people in my group of friends, were all aware of climate change and aware of how the economy’s never going to be the same and there’s just lots of things that made us think differently about what choices we’re going to make about retirement or where we’d want to live and, geographically what places feel secure. Not so much in terms of war or whatnot, but access to resources, access to shelter, access to water. So, I’ve been having those conversations with friends about survivalist kind of things, not, “we’re gonna join a militia in Idaho” and that extreme, but (laughter) “where are the fruit trees in town?” And, “who has what skills?” And we would joke about those things. Then my friend, who I live with now, she’d been coming down here as part of a spiritual community, for several years. She would tell me about her plans to buy collective land. They had a scientist or engineer who had developed a new greenhouse system where you add water once and then you never have to add water again, so there was all this technology. That was really fascinating to me and I’m thinking, “That sounds like a good place to live when shit goes down,” you know? Some of the women that my friend met through that community do collective farming. Or on a smaller scale, things like, “you can keep your goats on my property if you milk on Tuesday and Thursday.” I started to visit with her and planted the intention to help raise her child .. I was feeling that this was a great environment, where you can learn from being out in nature.. and my friend did not want to raise her child in the city.
I was on my own spiritual path. I was starting to make different decisions in my life based off of what was feeling right. I was doing a lot of work to follow those intuitions. To not stay in my job just because it was secure and easy to do, really trying to push myself. I was at my job for 6 years, I was co-executive director of a state-wide queer anti-violence organization. It was exciting work, but it was really intense too. Working on murder cases, or training victim advocates, and organizing youth.. but I knew that for the organization’s health and my own health, that I didn’t want to stay there much longer. My friend said “maybe you should move down here with me and we can get a place” and we started to joke about being plutonic partners and then she has a baby and everyone thinks we’re lesbians when we go out to eat together (laughter). She’s straight identified, but we have a lot of overlap with the queer community in Denver. Then it just got more real and I was talking to my job about wanting to leave and coming to visit (New Mexico) more frequently and starting to think about what kind of work I could do …and on a deeper level, I wanted to have the experience of being in a community where there was more interdependency, because you’re in a small town and you need each other, you know, I think more visibly than you do in a city. And wanting to live out some of those values that were such a big part of my politics and the work that I was doing. And I was getting tired of how in cities people can just up and go. They can up and go to a different organization if there’s personality conflict, they can move to a different city, they can hop around to different places and not really have to do the work, or really invest in people in that way. I was ready for that kind of challenge. I also wanted to be away from everything, I was looking forward to the solitude. I love being outdoors.. I love going to National Parks, I love going on road trips, I love camping, so it seemed great to live somewhere where I could literally walk to the state park everyday if I wanted to. I had like a lot of romanticized feelings (laughs) about it all.
R: Well, so that’s interesting—so, the Colorado Anti-Violence Program is specifically working on like queer issues around [violence?]
C: Yes, all types of violence
R: And so, was some of that in rural areas?
R: So…I guess I’m curious, like, if you’d been doing this sort of intense work around like violence towards queer people, and some of that was rural, was that at all in your brain [as you moved here]?
C: One of the biggest things that stuck with me in that job was, people in rural areas—not just the really rural communities…I used to think rural was 40,000 or less in a town, then I moved here (laughter). But people in rural areas were much more receptive—they were so excited to have training, or to have someone actually come out to their community. I was the training director and traveled around a lot. I enjoyed the difference, like, “Come have dinner at my house!” versus, “Let’s all go out to the restaurant,” or go to happy hour. It was so much more down to earth. I originally did want to move to southwestern Colorado, like the Durango, Pagosa Springs area. But I couldn’t recruit anybody, I couldn’t get any of my friends on board (laughs). They’re all like, “Why do you want to move to these small towns?” (Laughter) I was curious, just because I lived in a small town and hadn’t lived somewhere, as an adult that was so different.
R: But there was no, you weren’t like worried about – just in terms of the job that focused on like violence…I don’t know….Do you feel like that job like gave you any ideas of rural places being unsafe for queer people?]
C: No, because I saw so much violence in Denver as well, and in other urban areas around the country. I also served on the governance committee for the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs. I was involved in their national reporting annually and advocacy. I think when you’re actually in that work all the time and you don’t just see what the media puts out there, you see that it really happens everywhere. It can be just as brutal on your block in downtown wherever, versus, on a country road. Being out here I feel super safe. I haven’t had one experience yet that feels like even mistreatment, or a micro aggression which has been awesome.
R: So what do you think is, or are, like the largest sort of issues faced by queer people today in the US? That’s big, right? And it’s not done (laughter) And then, do you think it’s the same, or different things for rural queers? Like, do you think…yeah. That’s enough of a question.
C: I would say the biggest issue, and I don’t know if I would say this is the same for rural areas, but, I think criminalization is huge. And that’s the direction I see a lot of the organizing going, especially youth-led work, is focused on police profiling and so-called “Quality of Life” laws, gentrification, where that intersects with queer public spaces. And…the prison industrial complex in this country is out of control. There’s not enough awareness within our community or with what the media portrays, that it’s a queer issue. That policing and prisons and police brutality disproportionately impact people in our community. Because they’re impacting immigrants and it’s impacting people of color, and trans people specifically, who aren’t really made very visible within our community. That was a huge issue that I saw in my job. I don’t feel like I could speak to that. I’m too new and don’t really have other experiences to draw on living somewhere rural. But I know, from my perspective just moving here, I do feel a sense of isolation. Sometimes you want to hang out with people that are your age and, have similar ideas or similar experiences. When it comes to how I connect with people out here, sexual orientation is just not up there. The people that also identify as LGBT aren’t necessarily the people that I’m drawn to. It might be more because someone else is from a city, or someone else is a person of color, or someone else is into house music.. that’s the kind of thing that connects me to them.
R: So who do you, like who do you feel like is your community out here, in this rural place?
C: I would say I have friends so far and not a community. I mean there is a women’s collaborative that is mostly based in Ribera, 20 minutes from here. They started doing work in late 2012, around health and wellness and economic development. Looking at things like, “Can we get the corner stores to carry local farmers’ organic produce? “Can we teach people how to garden?” They started a thrift store that’s based on a gift economy that’s open every weekend, where people pay what they want. The women’s group has done some work to try to create jobs. They had a business and sewing class that I was a part of this spring, they partnered with a Santa Fe group to teach 20 or 25 women skills to market their products and figure out if it’s a viable option to make money from home. I have a hard time with just women—there’s a lot of women, womyn, wimmin stuff out here (laughs) and that’s where people are at. A huge part of my job was trans specific work. We’re talking about shelter access, these are the policies you have that deny people shelter based on their identity and trying to break that down for people and actually get them to change their policies. Then I move out here and —I don’t like hanging out with just women all the time. I like to hang out with guys, I like to watch football and drink beer and, do some of the stereotypical things. And the lesbians and the straight women out here are very in to the “women only” spaces and—I’m trying to be like, “Ok, that’s where you guys are at.” And I’ve just spent the last several years of my life trying to (laughs) get rid of second wave feminism, because I’m so tired of it (laughter).
A lot of people do have that sense of community. A lot of people are married, or they’re partnered with kids. That just feels like a very different way of living. My friend is one of the only single moms that she knows out here. And even though we share a lot of similarities and we’re pretty close in age, she still has a daughter. You know, and that changes a lot of stuff, too. So, it’s kind of like her and my friend who’s an artist (laughs) who’s been traveling a bunch for work, so she’s gone a lot in the summers. [But they’re who I spend] most of my social time with, but it’s pretty isolating. I’m an introvert, but just last week I’ve been laughing, telling friends that because I like a lot of time by myself, I thought that that was the same thing as wanting to live really far away from all of the people I love, and then I move out here and I realize, “Those are two different things.” I may want to say no to 5 invites over the weekend and choose to stay home, but at least it’s a choice. Whereas out here I’m like, “I guess I’ll watch Netflix, or facetime with my girlfriend.”
R: So…I guess…do you wanna talk about thinking of maybe not staying? And what that like, what that’s about?
C: Well the biggest thing was when I moved, because my choice to move here was so spiritually driven, I just felt it in my being, I just felt it in my body. I think I expected when I actually moved down here that I would feel this instant connection to the land. I thought I would be down here and I would feel that thing and then I would want to buy some land and I would want to make roots and I would figure out my relationship, I’d figure out my friendships, I’d figure out work—I would figure it out because the most important thing would be that this was where I was supposed to be. And that didn’t happen. I moved down here, and I actually feel, even though I feel very accepted by people and I think if I do choose to make this my home, I will find a space and, I think—I don’t know if I could say I could be happy, because I haven’t been very happy lately. So I wouldn’t say that, but I don’t think that it’s actually about the people or about, the communities that do exist out here. But the outsider piece feels really huge and I think some of that is really specific to New Mexico’s history,.. in this particular valley, what they call—everything’s called El Valle out here, even though there’s lots of valleys in the state, everything’s El Valle. So, from here…there’s about 16 pueblos along the Pecos River Valley. So in this area, a lot of people have been here generations. The racial and cultural identities and politics are very different than anywhere else I’ve been where they’ll identify as Spanish and identify more with the colonizer and still have a lot of internalized stuff around being indigenous. You don’t meet a lot of Chicano identified people, and I think there’s just been all these ways that culturally people over the generations, have taken on those pieces as their own, as their own culture. So, I feel the tension a lot, because a lot of the people I know are transplants. Even if they’ve lived here 15 years, they’re not from here. Probably half of them are white and the rest are, mostly Chicana—and I’m actually mixed race Japanese and white. I just like doubled the population when I moved here (laughs). There’s no Asian people in the state hardly. So there’s all these ways that just moving here I see that, I see the reasons why the people that are from here don’t get involved with the collaborative. Some women at the collaborative wonder why folks don’t help with the community garden and are volunteer at the thrift store and this and that, and I’m like, “You meet during church!” You know? The farmer’s market’s open on Sundays and I get the reasons why there’s a Vegas market and everyone goes to that on Saturday. I just feel hyper sensitive to that insider/outsider stuff. I don’t get the feeling that most people that are from here want people to leave or that kind of thing, but they’re just content. They’re fine. They don’t need a community organization because they have family. You know, they don’t need some place to go and be around people they care about because they already have that in their—really through extended family. And everyone knows everyone in town.
Sometimes I think I moved here 15 years too soon. I’m just too young to be here. I need more social outlets. I like to dress well, I like to be around people that talk about things that I find interesting and listen to different kinds of music and…I don’t know, things that make me feel really shallow, but I’m just learning to be like that’s ok, I need those things (laughs). I do some DJing as a hobby and, I’ve been really immersed in this like radical, younger, mostly brown, queer community in Denver and also nationally just through the work that I’ve done. So I have people that I know all over the place. Being out here I just get a little bored, where it’s very relational, which is cool, relationships are the foundation of everything and people want to know who your family is, they don’t care where you work, or they don’t care about some of those other things that I think I always valued more, or I would start conversations with. But, I don’t know if I can find that interesting enough. I’m working at the post office, which is what it is. It pays ok, it’s close to my house, but it’s not really that stimulating. I was running a statewide organization and fundraising and now I’m boxing mail and trying to memorize all of the different reports and mailing codes (laughs).
R: Do you deliver mail or you’re at the post office?
C: Nah, I’m at the post office.
R: Yeah. So that seems like an interesting way to move to a small town to me, being someone who’s from a small town, I feel like the post office is a really good place to go. (Laughs)
C: It is.
R: What’s it like working there, like do you—are people really curious about you? You know, when you first got there, or…
C: Yeah, people definitely ask like what my last name is, that’s how they get to “Who’s your family?” and then, then they’re like, “Whaat?”.. “Where’re you from?” They’re also excited,—I think they’re excited that someone would choose to move here. There are certain people that come in, it’s the same joke every week, you know, or every day. But it is where people run into each other and the bulletin board is how you get news out about what’s going on. So it’s been a good way for me to meet people, cause I’m not someone who’s gonna be out there, I’m not gonna go like knock on my neighbor’s door or that kind of thing, so it’s been really helpful to have that role and be able to have those kind of short, but authentic conversations with people and get to know lots of folks.
R: So when you think about leaving, if you leave, do you feel like you’ll go back to Denver? Do you feel like…has this changed your perspective of wanting to live in a rural place? Is it just that you feel like you’re too young? Is it that you feel like maybe you could find a different kind of a rural, or small town space that would be easier? Or do you, do you know?
C: I think—at this point, I would want to move back to Denver. I think what I realized is I don’t need to be so remote. If I chose a smaller town, I would choose something that was still closer to an urban area. I mean, this is only an hour away, but it’s an hour to get groceries. So it’s your day anytime you have to go into town to get something. So that remoteness, I’m not as into. I’m curious to think about ways that I could apply some of what I’m learning here to more of an urban setting, too. Like ways like being in the world, but also gardening and keeping chickens and that kind of thing. I just went full blown, I’m like, “I’m just gonna do it! And I’m gonna go for it.” As opposed to, there are a lot of ways you can do some of this stuff without making that huge of a jump. I have tried to recruit friends for a long time to move to small towns and queer people, queer friends and, there’s just no takers. So, now that I’ve lived here, I’m like, “I don’t think I could live somewhere this small for many, many years unless I had someone beside,” you know, like even if I had like a partner that moved down with me, I still would want more than that. Maybe I’m more city than I thought I was. (Laughter).
R: Well it’s interesting too…I think a lot of times queer people who grew up in like a tiny town find still a small town, but it’s like a big town. Like a college town, or like a—you know? Which I just think it’s interesting, like, how…how people make it work, you know? Cause, I live super, super, super, super rural, and I have moments where I’m like, “Maybe I don’t need to be on the farm I grew up on, I could be like on a farm, close to a town that also had other stuff going on.” You know? It’s just interesting—I think there are so many options of what it means to live not in a city. You know?
C: And I would’ve never chosen to move if it weren’t for my friend. My roommate is a really close friend and like family to me, but she’s also has like mad social skills. She is out there and she’s so good at talking to people, she knows everybody, so I get to like ride her coattails a lot, which is great for me personality wise, and being someone new. So it’s like, having her just kind of manage that part of my life is really nice. (Laughter) If I was just here by myself, I probably would’ve left already. So that’s been helpful because I meet a lot of people through her and—just feeling that kind of connection, or that kind of tie. And she’s only been here for less than 2 years, and she’s in it. She loves it, she couldn’t be happier, so that makes it a lot more grounding I guess.
R: So…if any of these questions are things that you’re like, “I don’t really know how to answer that, cause I’ve not lived here long”, that’s fine, but—how do you, or how do you think other queer people find, like their community if they’re looking for it? People to date, people to hook up with, like how do, how do people do that in rural places?
C: Mm, I think in terms of meeting people, I’ve met people through friends, but I don’t get a sense that they’re like, “Let’s try to get all the lesbians together!” It’s not the reason to hang out with people necessarily. I’m not sure about dating. I’ve tried online a little bit. But it’s mostly people in cities, that I would be messaging with. So I think online is definitely one way that people do it. Or if you have some connections and you can have a group of friends in Santa Fe, or in Albuquerque, then you can meet people that way. But it still feels focused on the cities. But yeah, I don’t have much experience out here.
R: So that’s—do you know of any, it sounds like that’s a little bit of it, but like queer history here? Or, even where you grew up. Like, how do— did you know of queer people in the town you grew up in? I mean you talked about those guys, and do you feel like that information is passed down, or it’s like there’s just rumors? And then here, it sounds like you have little bits and pieces, but…
C: In my town, it was so rumor focused. Except for, those gay neighbors. It always felt like something you shouldn’t know, or you shouldn’t talk about. It definitely wasn’t a good thing, you know? Or an acceptable thing in a lot of ways. I would be surprised if there was any kind of queer community that was starting to form in my hometown. Maybe, even the GSA, I can’t even imagine that at a high school. But it could happen, I don’t know. I should ask my younger brother, because he’s about to start his last year of high school.
R: In terms of trying to think about living in a rural place longer term, if that’s something you still think about doing…do you wanna have any type of family, queer family of any sort? And, especially around like trying to raise kids as a queer family in a rural place, do you think that would be challenging? Do you think it would be not a big deal? Also, it’s interesting to me cause you sort of, in some ways, some people would think maybe you’re in sort of a queer family situation right now in a rural place, right? And I don’t know what you think about your situation?
C: Yeah, it kind of is. I mean, it was funny because I moved here and me and my friend would be texting, “Hey, wifey!” And joking, and then we moved here and I was like, “I don’t want to call you wifey anymore. Because you’re not my wifey and this is very different.” (laughter) I was like, “Sorry, but it’s not really a joke.” She has a lot of straight privilege out here. Longer term I would want to have queer- community almost feels like too big of a word, but at least 2 other people besides someone I’m involved with romantically that would be part of—even if they didn’t live right in the town, even if they lived in like Santa Fe or something, but just having that connection that’s a little bit closer by. I don’t know what it would be like in the schools, you know, if we were to have children or how their students would be and that kind of thing. Or how their parents, I guess how their parents possibly might be that aren’t from this area. I don’t know of any couples that have had kids that are queer out here. But I definitely have chosen family, mostly in Denver. We spend all our holidays together, we go get a cabin for Christmas sometimes and it includes a straight couple that’s married that has a son and then, a bunch of trans and queer folks. We all met and really connected with each other, so I would want them to be a part of that broader family as well as my partner. I’m not like, “I need to raise my kids out in nature.” If I were to choose to leave and have kids that I could still find ways to kind of expose them to the things that I think are really important and valuable about living somewhere like this, versus the city. You know, even if I was in an urban area.
R: How do you feel like—do you, how do you feel like the community here, or the small town, sort of interacts with your queerness? Or with you as a queer person?
C: It feels like it’s really not an issue, but not in a way that feels dismissive, which is kind of a new experience for me. I feel like once people have a context, or they know what house I live in and they used to know the owner, like, “Oh yeah, you have Kit’s house! And I used to bring my horses down there,” or that kind of thing. They just need to have that context for that relationship and then it makes sense for them. It doesn’t feel like there’s really been issues, there’s not strange questions with people prying or being curious about my sexual orientation or my gender. My girlfriend who lives in Denver comes down to visit and we go to the general store, and have been at the farmer’s market together and that kind of thing and, it feels fine, I’m able to introduce her to people and it doesn’t feel like it’s an issue. It feels like there’s just like a very easy way that people can just accept others as whole people, without all of the complications that I think come and are really intellectual, overly political in urban areas where even….I just went to Detroit to the allied media conference and there’s so many workshops, like, “Well as I identify” and they’d list all these labels and out here, taking care of the land is the most important thing, what words you choose to talk about your racial identity or sexual orientation are not as important if we all take care of the water. You know and if you care about the water, I care about the water, then we’re cool. You know? And there’s that kind of culture, which I think is really, really cool to get to experience.
R: So one of the last things I usually ask people is, is there something you would want to say to other rural queer folks? But if you don’t feel comfortable answering that… I don’t know, maybe…do you have…something you’d say to other people living in cities? I don’t know how to modify that question….Who are interested in…I don’t know, maybe this is not a question that’ll work, but…
C: Yeah, I don’t think I’m the right person to give like words of wisdom to other rural queers. I think for city people that are queer that are thinking about moving to the country to… you might be surprised to find out how much stimulation you actually do need in your life (laughs) to feel connected or feel grounded or that kind of thing. But, yeah, I’ll leave that one to other people on your tour (laughs).
R: The other thing I ask at the end is, what should I have asked you? Like what didn’t we talk about that you feel like is important, or, what would you be curious about knowing from other people?
C: I’m curious how people that are younger than 40 and not in a traditional partnered relationship, what are social outlets or what are the things that you do to help you feel like you still get to be young—and I’m not even like that young anymore, but I still feel like —a lot of the people I hang out with in Denver are still in their 20s and, just not being around young people out here has been different. It’s different like what my friend has to do when she’s married and has baby goats and (laughs) her mom lives with her, you know, it’s very different than my responsibilities in my home, so, I think that’s a story I would be interested in hearing more about.
R: Cool. Alright, nothin’ else you feel like you wanna add?
C: Um…I guess just – I guess I would just say that my kind of being on the fence about whether I want to live here or not …being queer isn’t a factor in that decision. You know? I do feel like if I was feeling that draw to the land, that I would find that community, you know, I’d be able to make it work. I don’t feel like my choice to leave is because that’s not a possibility here. I think that maybe on the scale that I would like it to happen, like the scale of the community or that kind of thing, that I don’t know that I could find that without spending all my time in Albuquerque. There’s a lot about living here that’s really awesome that I definitely couldn’t get—and I just needed to try it out, cause otherwise I would be living my whole life being like, “Maybe I should’ve done that thing where I moved all my shit to the country and tried to make a life” (laughs) and I think I would. I think it’s good to try it out and, and be in a supportive environment where I can do that and see if it’s the right way, if it’s the right life for me or not. Or the right kind of life right now, at this time for me.
R: So this is totally jumping way back, but —you did say something about moving back to the city and that you could take some of the things with you that you’d learned here. And you partially talked about gardening and chicken-keeping (laughter), but also you talked about other things, about like….like how the—I don’t know, how people interact here, or I don’t know exactly what you meant by that, but do you have more to say about that?
C: Yeah, yeah…the biggest piece for me—and this is because before I started doing anti-violence specific work, I was teaching self-defense, that was actually how I got into anti-violence work. So, I took self-defense in college, it was a women’s studies class and it was really comprehensive. It was verbal, physical, and mental, and so a lot of stuff around being socialized into the victim role, a lot of things about boundary-setting and verbal skills, but also just learning to trust yourself and—so I’ve kind of just been immersed in this world of safety – on an individual and a community level. And then I went in to doing queer specific work that included hate violence, police brutality, sexual assault, DV. I think naturally I got really comfortable and really used to moving around, to just moving through life being prepared for the worst case scenario. Where I want to be thinking about what targets could I hit if I had to? You know? Or, if I’m at a club and someone’s disrespecting my friend, I will not hesitate to get between them, because I know what to do if it escalates. I think I just had a certain level of hardness, with people that I didn’t know, that was really normal to me. And somewhere out here, you can’t be like that, cause then you’re just rude, you know? Or you’re really unfriendly and you don’t want to treat people like that. Here, I’m just learning a different way, learning to walk down my street, or go into the store, even if I don’t know who’s working that day or I don’t know who’s at the counter, like another customer. I expect to be treated like anyone else that might walk in there. And I’m continually having that experience, so it’s getting affirmed every day that I’m here. It gets affirmed every day at the post office. I mean all kinds of people that are coming in. That feels really good, it’s a relief that safety’s not still an issue, but, I think it just feels with my heart like a healthier way to like live my life, is to keep my heart more open to people in general and be authentic about it. Instead of always bracing for potential harm, whether that’s emotional or physical or whatnot, and then missing opportunities to connect with someone on a human level—cause I have had those moments where someone comes to my door and I’m too short with them because you’re a stranger at my door, but I really didn’t even take the time to feel it out and even really listen to what they’re saying. This is giving me a chance to practice that way of being present with the world around me. I think people in cities – we should try more of that, or practice more of that.
Interviewed at a picnic table in Villanueva State Park inVillanueva, New Mexico on July 7, 2014.
Thanks to our wonderful volunteer Jocelyn Jessop for the transcription! Here’s a little bit about Jocelyn:
“Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.
And they call again, “It’s simple,”
they say, “and you, too, have come
into the world to do this, to go easy,
to be filled with light, and to shine.””
from “When I Am Among The Trees” by Mary Oliver